PCOO pushes for inclusion of FOI bill in priority legislation

MANILA – The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is pushing to have the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill included in President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of “urgent” measures this year.

In 2016, Duterte signed an executive order on the implementation of the FOI in the executive branch. However, an FOI measure remains pending in the Congress.

PCOO Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said the agency is boosting efforts to implement access to information at the local level.

“PCOO is committed to institutionalize the FOI across all branches of government by Congress passing legislation on access to information which will mandate the disclosure of government information in the interim,” he said in a statement.

He explained that aside from drafting an administrative version of the FOI bill that was presented in the Congress, the PCOO is also requesting the Office of the President to certify it as an urgent bill.

“We have also requested the issuance of a certification of the FOI as an urgent legislative measure by the Office of the President or the inclusion of FOI as part of the President’s legislative agenda for this year 2020,” he added.

The FOI was first filed during the 12th Congress, but it has been bypassed.

In December 2019, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas filed House Bill 05776 also known as the FOI Act of 2019 which has adopted the features proposed by the PCOO.

Among the salient features of the bill are crafting a mechanism that will refer and transfer requests to appropriate agencies that should address the said request, and creation of a records management system.

An oversight body or the FOI Commission will also be established, along with the creation of a central appeals and review committee (CARC) for all FOI compliant agencies in the three major branches of the government — Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

The Office of the Ombudsman will also have the power to review the decisions from the CARC.

“It is important that the FOI law be passed as soon as possible to empower our citizens for government participation by requesting information and to make our bureaucracy even more open,” Ablan said.

On July 23, 2016, the President signed Executive Order (EO) 2 on FOI that allows all Filipinos to obtain documents and records from public offices, in an effort to promote transparency in the government under his watch.

Under EO 2, a Filipino citizen can request any information about government transactions and operations by presenting proof of education to the concerned state office or lodging queries online through the official website www.foi.gov.ph.

An FOI request can be made before all government offices under the executive branch, including government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCCs), and state universities and colleges (SUCs).Requesting parties can have access to information, official records, public records and documents and papers on official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for policy development.